At the Sundance Film Festival this year, audiences and critics gave a lot of praise to The Surrogate, a film based on a true story starring John Hawkes as a nearing 40 year-old virgin due to his affliction with polio. Enter Helen Hunt’s “sex surrogate”, who differentiates herself from prostitutes, to ease her client through the process of having a meaningful sexual experience. In what couldn’t have been better timing for documentarian Catherine Scott, her latest film, Scarlet Road, tackles the current truth about the same subject matter through the eyes of an actual “sex worker.” Rachel Wotton works out of Australia and has become a specialist in working with a disabled client base.
Scott’s film follows Rachel to meet with several of them and their caretakers, explaining what she does and how she is working to expand the service through Touching Base (www.touchingbase.org) that is a haven for potential clients and others in her profession seeking legitimacy. It makes for two halves of an interesting discussion on the subject. The best aspects of the film involve Rachel and the clients; a true human interest story that should reach beyond any moral objections one has towards however people want to label her. Nothing is graphic in representation and while sex is a foregone conclusion, it is the basic human connection and tenderness that Rachel helps provide that makes any denial of it immoral in its own right. This is where I would have liked to see the film provide more insight into. Rachel’s advocacy in larger venues is seen going largely unheralded, and while she lights up the center of the film, another 10-20 minutes of interviewing subjects to voice such opposition would have made for a fuller film and may have even increased audience support in an age where such stick-in-the-muds for human rights have become more dangerous than mere buzzkills. Scarlet Road makes for an interesting introduction to the Wotton’s of the world though, especially (like The Surrogate) for those who might seem a little turned off by the whole idea of it. Those people should remember it is not about them though and all about those who need to get turned on once in a while too. (Be sure to read our interview with director Catherine Scott and star Rachel Wotton. (March 12, 1:15 PM; March 13, 4:30 PM; March 16, 11:00 AM) Erik Childress